HER SWINGIN' '60s CREDENTIALS: The lanky good-singing good-looking half of the wildly dressed husband-and-wife team of Sonny and Cher, this songbird scored major chart success with durable hits like "I Got You Babe" and "The Beat Goes On."
CATEGORIES OF SWINGIN' CHICK: Songbird, Movie Star, TV Star, Girlfriend/Wife
BIRTH: She was born in 1946, so Cher was only fourteen at the start of the decade; David Letterman constantly pokes fun at her age on his "Late Night" show, saying things like she's a senior citizen, but parts of her are still underage. Of her own long career as a rock star, she said at a '99 concert, "We've got 35 years of stuff to cram in here, I don't know how that happened, I'm not even 35 years old." Also, she was asked by columnist Liz Smith in late '99 how she stays so current: "I haven't the slightest idea. I don't even try. I am constantly suprised by any success I have." Her exotic birthplace, El Centro, California, in the desert east of San Diego. Her moniker at birth: Cherilyn Sarkisian.
IMPACT ON THE '60s: She's one of the few Swingin' Chicks of the '60s known by just a single name -- others include Veruschka, Twiggy, possibly Marilyn, Goldie, and Liz. However, by the end of the decade she and Sonny were so out of touch with their fans that supposedly the duo was hooted off the stage at the Newport Folk Festival in '68, the audience no longer wanting their elegant pop music as music got harder and more drug-tinged. It was at this time that they hocked the furniture in their Bel Air mansion and borrowed money so that Sonny could write and produce a movie, Chastity, to launch Cher's movie career, but Hollywood waited until the '80s to make her a movie star. As fun as her impact was on the '60s, it was much stronger in the '70s and '80s. In fact, in June of 2001 Biography magazine polled its readers, asking for their favorite film actress of all time. Cher came in third, right behind Audrey Hepburn at #1, and Katharine Hepburn at #2 (also on that list was Barbra Streisand at #10).
CAREER IN THE '60s: It's amazing how long her career has been, and it still goes on to this day. In '64 she briefly recorded as Bonnie Jo Mason, releasing the songs "Ringo, I Love You" and "Beatle Blues." She and new beau Sonny then made a go as the duo Caesar and Cleo, then they changed their names in '65 to Sonny and Cher and immediately soared to #1 with "I Got You Babe" and a dozen other top-40 hits, including "Baby Don't Go" ('65), "The Beat Goes On" ('67), and "You Better Sit Down Kids." Ironically, when he first played "I Got You Babe" for her as a work-in-progress, she told him it was "just another song," adding, "I don't think it's your best work." Cher also starred in two Sonny and Cher movies, Good Times ('67) and Chastity ('69). Then came decades of change, redefinition, glamour, solo success, Hollywood, and finally maturity -- when she did win her Oscar at last in '88, she gave a gracious, respectful acceptance, bestowing praise on all the other nominated actresses, and ending with a humble "I don't think this means I AM somebody, but I guess I'm on my way."
CAREER OUTSIDE THE '60s: She enjoyed admirable success after the '60s, including three #1 hit songs -- "Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves" in '71, "Half-Breed" in '73, and "Dark Lady" in '74 -- plus a hit TV variety show with husband Sonny from '71 to '74 and her own show, "Cher," in '75, plus a big Vegas act at the end of the '70s that brought her $350K a week and the disco hit "Take Me Home." She found Broadway success in '82 with Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, plus a lengthy film career highlighted by her Oscar-winning role in Moonstruck in '87 as well as Silkwood in '83, Mask in '85, Mermaids in '90, plus some surprising re-appearances on the record charts in '99 with a hit album called Believe and an energetic dance song, "Strong Enough." She's still touring and putting on an energetic, dazzling show, among the songs on her acclaimed '99 tour were U'2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," "The Way of Love," "Take Me Home," "After All," "Walking in Memphis," "Strong Enough," "If I Could Turn Back Time," "Believe," and a medley of hits like "Half Breed," "Dark Lady," and "Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves." She's hoping she won't be remembered in the '90s for her embarrassing infomercials that made everyone wonder, "What's an Oscar-winner doing up there?" These appearances cost her a lot of fans, she admitted in a TV interview: "I should've just put a gun in my mouth and blown my brains out, it would've been a lot faster." Here's the L.A. Times review of her latest album, released in February 2002:
After getting all of that personal-statement stuff out of her system in 2000 with the Internet-only release not.com.mercial an album featuring her poetry set to music, Cher has electro-bopped back to inspirational danceability in this follow-up to her 1998 blockbuster Believe. Just in time to dedicate the pulsing new single "(This Is) A Song for the Lonely" to the people of New York in the aftermath of 9/11. Not that the veteran singer and actress planned it that way, of course. She's just, again, suddenly in tune with the zeitgeist with an uncanny timeliness that rivals Madonna's. Anyway, why mess with a good thing? She's even reunited with Believe producers Mark Taylor and Brian Rawling to make Living Proof another neo-disco opus focused on lightweight-yet-uplifting sentiments as penned by such reliable fluff-meisters as Diane Warren. Her ruminations on love lost and found, real and not, universal and erotic, are all very smooth and soaring, but even given the context, the inch-deep revelations quickly wear thin. Such variants as the mournful, acoustic-flavored ballad "Rain, Rain" don't do much to keep the songs' thoroughly modern two-step rhythms, throbbing house beats, shimmery synths and Vocoder effects from blurring together into one endlessly vibrating mechanism, with Cher the gooey human center. But not even her throaty, over-enunciated sincerity can make the repetitive points of feeling lonely/being happy/getting cosmic very interesting.
TALENT: No matter what you think of her choice of material, which has been pretty lightweight at times, you gotta admit she had the pipes from the get-go. As the '60s progressed she became a more confident, passionate singer, despite having a crippling stage fright that almost kept her from performing. She also began her acting career this decade, getting her start in a "Man from U.N.C.L.E." episode in '64 and a pre-Sonny & Cher movie, Wild on the Beach, in '65. Later, of course, came her Oscar and six Golden Globe nominations or wins after '74. At a summer '99 concert she coyly said "I'm quite a little actress, you know" to an appreciative audience. VH1 also named her the oldest singer (53) to have a #1 hit ("Believe" in '99), and the singer who's gone the longest between her first #1 ("I Got You Babe" in '65) and her last #1 ("Believe" in '99). One of her best talents is her quick wit, delivered in a deadpan style to sharpen the effect -- she once said, "The trouble with some women is that they get all excited about nothing -- and then marry him." She shows off her wit in her entertaining, autobiographical The First Time, published in late '99. And she frequently shows up in newspaper and magazine columns giving her opinion, as she did with the following quote from Liz Smith's column in February of 2002:
Cher took time out from publicizing her new album, Living Proof, to deliver some choice words about U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft -- specifically, last month's decision to throw curtains over the bare-breasted statue "Spirit of Justice" and her skimpily clad male partner "Majesty of Law," which have stood in the Department of Justice's Great Hall since 1936. Ashcroft, who reportedly had expressed discomfort at holding press conferences in front of the statues, denies ordering the statues covered. In a phone call to the Washington Post, the singer acknowledged that she's not "the bastion of good taste," but is concerned about the direction in which the nation is moving. "What are we going to do next? Put shorts on the statue of David, put an 1880s bathing suit on 'Venus Rising' and a shirt on the Venus de Milo?," she asked. "If they start doing that, maybe they'll start deciding what books are all right for us to read and we'll start losing all of our freedoms. It's shocking. If he doesn't want to make speeches in front of them, let him make speeches somewhere else," she scoffed. "He's mobile"
HER '60s LOOK: "It's a tough job being ridiculous," she once said, "but if someone's got to do it, it might as well be me." She's always sported versatile hair styles that went from long and flat in the '60s to wildly curly and sculpted into creative shapes in later decades. Her big eyes were accentuated by heavy eye makeup during the '60s, a look Mary Quant might've approved of. Of her image in the '60s, Cher once said, "the square people think I'm too hip and the hip people think I'm too square." She's admitted to having had repeated plastic surgeries to keep her young and sexy, and she's had at least six tattoos, but she told Newsday in August, '98 that she was having them removed: "We all have to move on." Her first tattoo was when she was 27, it was a butterfly and a flower on her butt. As for her clothes, she was a long lean psychedelic machine, wearing all colors and fabrics and accessories, often using fur and two of the widest bell-bottoms in the biz to create a crazy unisex look that both she and Sonny could wear. She has said that she was designing her own clothes back then, while Sonny was attending to the duo's business matters. About her appearance, she once said "I go around grubby all the time; I just don't have the patience, except when I'm working, to put on makeup or look good." She wore a $12,000 Bob Mackie gown to the '86 Oscars, at the time the most expensive dress ever worn to that event; she loved wearing Mackie's clothes, she said, because "he makes me look like a girl." She does know that she puts on a wild appearance at times, especially on stage or at events like the Oscars, offering no apologies, just courage and maybe occasional jokes, such as this comment she made at a live show in '99 about her costume of boots, a cape, and red hair: "It's my Braveheart meets Bozo the Clown look." As for dressing in real life, to columnist Liz Smith in late '99 she said, "I think October and November and December are the most seductive months, just when the weather's getting crisp, and you bundle up a bit, maybe wear gloves." At the Oscars in March 2000 she looked surprisingly low-key, wearing a simple, stylin', but sedate black gown; when she spoke onstage, she apologized to the academy for looking so grown up, and she promised never to do it again! And here's an anecdote about one of her clothes-buying experiences, as reported in Liz Smith's syndicated column in May of 2001:
"In the real world, Cher is still a girl in love with denim. She was shopping at Kitson's in L.A. and fell in love with a denim jacket embellished and hanging on the rack. 'How much?' she asked the salesgirl. It was the clerk's jacket, and she was embarrassed to tell Cher, so she came up with an $850 price tag. Cher then ordered two more of the same."
LIFESTYLE: Here's what she was thinking the first time she set her eyes on Sonny: "I actually thought to myself, something is different now. You're never going to be the same." After meeting Sonny in Hollywood in '63 when she was sixteen and he was 27, she unofficially married him two years later in the bathroom of their small Hollywood Hills house; they exchanged silver rings he'd bought on Olvera Street in downtown L.A., inscribed with their names. She officially married him in '69 when daughter Chastity was born, and she stayed married to him until '75. Her wilder lifestyle didn't come until after their divorce. About the tabloid reporters who hounded her, she once said: "You go through my garbage and hide in my plants, it's not what grown-ups should do for a living." Three days after her divorce from Sonny, Cher married heroin-addled Gregg Allman in Vegas, she then filed for dissolution nine days later, and eventually had his son, Elijah Blue, though the marriage didn't officially end for three years. She had later affairs with Kiss's Gene Simmons, actors Eric Stoltz and Val Kilmer, older media mogul David Geffen, possibly Tom Cruise, then several younger unknowns. Supposedly on her 40th birthday she saw hunky 22-year-old bagel-boy Rob Camilletti for the first time and said, "Have him washed and brought to my tent." "A girl can wait for the right man to come along," she explained, "but in the meantime that still doesn't mean she can't have a wonderful time with all the wrong ones." And also: "I answer to two people, myself and God."
EXTRAS: Young daughter Chastity would be brought out at the end of "The Sonny and Cher Show" to watch her parents sing some "I Got You Babe" and say their good nights ... Chastity is now a prominent activist in the lesbian community ... when she was 33 Cher found out she'd been dyslexic her entire life ... in the mid-'90s on Letterman's "Late Night" she had a moving, tearful reunion with Sonny, they sang "Babe" together for the first time in decades and seemed to make up, the audience and Lettermen were genuinely touched by their reconciliation ... she defended Sonny even when he was down, and she spoke eloquently in his behalf after his '98 death in a Lake Tahoe skiing accident ... in 2001 Cher found a new kind of immortality -- as part of a ride at Disneyland (she's one of the figures in the Superstar Limo attraction on the California Adventure side of the Magic Kingdom, she's shown standing in Malibu wearing a pair of glittery swim fins) ... of her own life, she told syndicated columnist Liz Smith in May '99: "I've always lived quietly. It's just that when I'm out, I am really out. People think I'm sort of a madwoman, but you know what? I'm really very boring" ... and finally: "After a nuclear holocaust there'll be cockroaches and there'll be Cher, I think that pretty much sums it up" ... Cher has her own official Web site: Cher's Official Web Site